Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Are We All United On This?

When United Airlines had a paying customer violently removed from a plane just because that customer wanted United to honor its promise when he paid for his ticket, United was well within its legal right to do so. It says right on the back of your ticket, in print most people over the age of 45 cannot read, that paying customers can be asked to give up their seat if the airline needs to use it. In this case, the airline needed to transport a crew or that crew's flight would have been moved to the next day. United says that it was within its legal right to inconvenience one passenger to accommodate 150 others, but I am not sure that is the point here.

First of all, anyone who justifies what happened to that passenger because of the passenger's history can save that argument for someone who buys it. This situation would have been just as bad if United had chosen the Catholic priest on the one side of the Asian doctor, or the mass murderer on the other. The passenger was chosen at random, so his past had nothing to do with what happened.

United was fully within its legal right to do what it did. But as Anonymous has taught us; just because it is legal does not make it right. The airline industry has gone back to the federal government again and again for financial bailouts because this country needs an airline system in place, but the return on that investment is never very good. The plain truth is that airlines could care less about their passengers, and this is just one example of what can happen when a passenger who was wronged decides to fight back.

Put yourself in this Asian doctor's position. You paid $800 for a flight home and barely made it to the gate on time. Because you were among the last to board, you were singled out to be removed from the plane when a crew for another flight shows up (late and unexpected) and needs a lift. You paid your money, you made it on time, and you are in your seat. Then a flight attendant shows up and says that you have to leave that seat because the airline needs it. Your kid has a baseball game the next afternoon, or your mom is headed in for major surgery, or your wife's surprise birthday is that night. Whatever the reason, you get angry.

It is my understanding that if you get angry with any member of a flight crew, they have the right to treat you as a threat. This Asian doctor didn't want to get off the plane, and it obviously hit him as he was walking down the loading deck away from the plane that he did not want to give up his seat. He went back into the plane, the crew called the cops, and United had a PR disaster on its hands.

Did the passenger act irrationally? By the letter of the law, yes he did. But put yourself in his spot and tell me how you would react. It is my understanding (and I could be wrong) that the flight crew had not mentioned anything about a flight the next day or a hotel voucher. But even if they had, it may not have helped if that doctor needed to get back home on that flight.

The airlines are part of a service industry that caters to clients. Imagine if you booked a hotel room, paid for the room, checked into the room, and then had the guy from the front desk knock on the door tell you that you had to leave that room because the VP of Operations just showed up and needed a room. And by the way, the place is booked solid. That doesn't happen in the hotel industry because hotels understand the value of repeat business. Airlines are controlled by the federal government, which should tell you all you need to know about what airlines think of their customers.

Airlines are allowed to overbook flights by a certain percentage of seats to accommodate for any people who miss their flight and leave empty seats. But if you miss your flight, you give up the money you paid for that seat anyways. Airlines should be forced to block off a certain amount of seats that they cannot sell in case they need to use them for their administrative purposes. Instead, airlines are legally allowed to oversell every flight and inconvenience customers if the airline needs some seats for crew members.

Like I said, the airlines are monitored and regulated by the feds. Do you still think the feds ever really cared about you or anything you want or need?

George N Root III is a Lockport resident who never flies because airlines are awful, horrible organizations. Follow him on Twitter @georgenroot3, or send him a message at